100 books like Land of Big Numbers

By Te-Ping Chen,

Here are 100 books that Land of Big Numbers fans have personally recommended if you like Land of Big Numbers. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Maxim Samson Author Of Invisible Lines: Boundaries and Belts That Define the World

From my list on redefining your understanding of geography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Geography professor at DePaul University with a long-standing obsession with the world, comparing puddle shapes to countries as a small child and subsequently initiating map and flag collections that I cultivate to this day. Having lived in different parts of the UK and the USA, as well as being fortunate enough to travel further afield, I’ve relished the opportunity to explore widely and chat with the people who know their places best. I love books that alter how I look at the planet, and I am particularly intrigued by the subtle ways in which people have shaped our world—and our perceptions of it—both intentionally and inadvertently.

Maxim's book list on redefining your understanding of geography

Maxim Samson Why did Maxim love this book?

How often do we consider the people behind the objects we use every day?

This book offers an unrivalled glimpse into the lives of the female workers who manufacture many of the products we take for granted and, in so doing, provides a human face to China’s rapid development. Through her interactions and interviews, Chang illustrates how the emergence of new industrial metropolises is transforming the opportunities and aspirations of young rural women.

While she does not shy away from showing the grittier aspects of China’s colossal factories, crucially, Chang demonstrates how their workers are autonomous individuals with concerns and dreams both relatable and unfamiliar.

This stimulating read is one of my favourite texts to use with university students, raising, as it does, all sorts of questions about gender, class, culture, and individual agency, but it has much to offer a wider audience, too, not least in providing an important…

By Leslie T. Chang,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Factory Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An eye-opening and previously untold story, Factory Girls is the first look into the everyday lives of the migrant factory population in China.

China has 130 million migrant workers—the largest migration in human history. In Factory Girls, Leslie T. Chang, a former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing, tells the story of these workers primarily through the lives of two young women, whom she follows over the course of three years as they attempt to rise from the assembly lines of Dongguan, an industrial city in China’s Pearl River Delta.

As she tracks their lives, Chang paints a…


Book cover of Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng's China

Aihwa Ong Author Of Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality

From my list on people's lives in contemporary China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor emerita of Anthropology at Berkeley. I have written books on Muslim women in runaway factories; the modern Chinese diaspora; Cambodian refugees in the US; neoliberal Asian states; and Singapore's biomedical hub. I also write on contemporary Chinese art. We live in worlds interwoven by assemblages of technology, politics, and culture. Each situation is crystallized by the shifting interactions of global forces and local elements. Given our interlocking, interdependent realities, a sustainable future depends on our appreciation of cultural differences and support of transnational cooperation. For many people, China today is a formidable challenge, but learning about its peoples' struggles and desires is a beginning toward recognizing their humanity.

Aihwa's book list on people's lives in contemporary China

Aihwa Ong Why did Aihwa love this book?

China's gargantuan size has haunted its efforts to become a modern nation. Anthropologist Greenhalgh argues that in the late 1970s, Chinese rocket scientists, influenced by doomsday policymakers in the West, convinced the Chinese government to impose a one-child family planning program. The draconian enforcement of the one-child policy subjected millions of women to intimate corporeal surveillance that resulted in uncounted numbers of forced abortions, hidden births, and suffering for the masses. By 2016, when the two children policy was instituted, family planning contributed to an unbalanced gender ratio, delayed marriages, and a possibly irreversible population decline. Social engineering is a modus operandi of the Chinese state, and ironically, its most famous strategy threatens the nation's sustainability as a world industrial power.

By Susan Greenhalgh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Just One Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

China's one-child rule is unassailably one of the most controversial social policies of all time. In the first book of its kind, Susan Greenhalgh draws on twenty years of research into China's population politics to explain how the leaders of a nation of one billion decided to limit all couples to one child. Focusing on the historic period 1978-80, when China was just reentering the global capitalist system after decades of self-imposed isolation, Greenhalgh documents the extraordinary manner in which a handful of leading aerospace engineers hijacked the population policymaking process and formulated a strategy that treated people like missiles.…


Book cover of Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade

David Joselit Author Of Heritage and Debt: Art in Globalization

From my list on art and globalization.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been professionally involved with contemporary art since the 1980s, when I was a curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In the forty years since I've seen an enormous shift in the orientation of American curators and scholars from Western art to a global perspective. After earning my PhD at Harvard, and writing several books on contemporary art, I wanted to tackle the challenge of a truly comparative contemporary art history. To do so, I've depended on the burgeoning scholarship from a new more diverse generation of art historians, as well as on many decades of travel and research. My book Heritage and Debt is an attempt to synthesize that knowledge. 

David's book list on art and globalization

David Joselit Why did David love this book?

This engaging book looks at globalization and art from a perspective well beyond the conventional art world. Wong analyzes the work of artists in the Chinese "urban village" of Dafen where some five million paintings are produced a year–copies of Western masterpieces. Rather than viewing this industry condescendingly, Wong takes Dafen as a laboratory for understanding what qualities make an artist, and how creativity exists even in contexts of reproduction and replication. 

By Winnie Won Yin Wong,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Van Gogh on Demand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the Guangdong province in southeastern China lies Dafen, a village that houses thousands of workers who paint Van Goghs, Da Vincis, Warhols, and other Western masterpieces, producing an astonishing five million paintings a year. To write about life and work in Dafen, Winnie Wong infiltrated this world, investigating the claims of conceptual artists who made projects there; working as a dealer; apprenticing as a painter; surveying merchants in Europe, Asia, and America; establishing relationships with local leaders; and organizing a conceptual art show for the Shanghai World Expo. The result is Van Gogh on Demand, a fascinating book about…


Book cover of Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person

Aihwa Ong Author Of Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality

From my list on people's lives in contemporary China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor emerita of Anthropology at Berkeley. I have written books on Muslim women in runaway factories; the modern Chinese diaspora; Cambodian refugees in the US; neoliberal Asian states; and Singapore's biomedical hub. I also write on contemporary Chinese art. We live in worlds interwoven by assemblages of technology, politics, and culture. Each situation is crystallized by the shifting interactions of global forces and local elements. Given our interlocking, interdependent realities, a sustainable future depends on our appreciation of cultural differences and support of transnational cooperation. For many people, China today is a formidable challenge, but learning about its peoples' struggles and desires is a beginning toward recognizing their humanity.

Aihwa's book list on people's lives in contemporary China

Aihwa Ong Why did Aihwa love this book?

This collection, by anthropologists and psychiatrists, gives us a glimpse of soul searching by ordinary people as China compresses centuries of industrial growth into two decades. The unprecedented fragmentation of families and loss of culture have scattered lives and disoriented minds. The chapter authors consider intimate topics --  death, sex, depression, stigma, suicide, and madness -- that lie beneath the glossy images of Chinese achievements. They reveal the deep confusion of ordinary people as they struggle with questions of morality and humanity in a relentless, turbulent world.

By Arthur Kleinman, Yunxiang Yan, Jing Jun , Sing Lee , Everett Zhang , Pan Tianshu , Wu Fei , Jinhua Guo

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Deep China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Deep China" investigates the emotional and moral lives of the Chinese people as they adjust to the challenges of modernity. Sharing a medical anthropology and cultural psychiatry perspective, Arthur Kleinman, Yunxiang Yan, Jing Jun, Sing Lee, Everett Zhang, Pan Tianshu, Wu Fei, and Guo Jinhua delve into intimate and sometimes hidden areas of personal life and social practice to observe and narrate the drama of Chinese individualization. The essays explore the remaking of the moral person during China's profound social and economic transformation, unraveling the shifting practices and struggles of contemporary life.


Book cover of The Book and the Sword

Alice Poon Author Of The Heavenly Sword

From my list on wuxia/xianxia fantasy books with strong-willed and free-spirited female leads.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion for Chinese history took root when I began reading Jin Yong’s wuxia novels, which are all steeped in Chinese historical background. My fiction writing career began with historical fiction based on Chinese history. Through my earlier research work, I discovered that Chinese historians have always given short shrift to the influence of women on cultural, political, and social developments throughout the ages. That led me to decide to center my writing around inspiring Chinese female historical figures. After publishing The Green Phoenix and Tales of Ming Courtesans, I branched out to write wuxia fantasy novels, but with the same objective of featuring admirable female historical/fictional characters.

Alice's book list on wuxia/xianxia fantasy books with strong-willed and free-spirited female leads

Alice Poon Why did Alice love this book?

The unyielding Fragrant Princess who rejects the Emperor’s advances left an indelible mark on my mind. Although she is not portrayed as a heroine, it is her ultimate sacrificial act of defiance, made in order to alert her lover (rebel leader of the Red Flower Society) of the Emperor’s trap, that deeply moved me.

This was the first novel written by Jin Yong, the wuxia fiction icon and my literary idol. It was also the first novel that I came across and read as a child during one summer vacation. The thrilling martial arts fight scenes and the addictive plot certainly had me enthralled and would send me down the wuxia rabbit hole in ensuing summers! Recently, I re-read this novel, and I still adore it.

By Louis Cha, Graham Earnshaw (translator), Rachel May (editor) , John Minford (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book and the Sword as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A lost city in the desert, wolf packs, a book, and, of course, a sword...

The Book and the Sword was Louis Cha's first novel, published in 1955, and quickly established him as one of the new masters of the wuxia genre. The novel is panoramic in scope and includes the fantastical elements for which Cha is well-known: secret societies, kung fu masters, a lost desert city guarded by wolf packs, and the mysterious Fragrant Princess, an embellishment of an actual historical figure - although whether she actually smelled of flowers, we will never know. Further to that Cha revives…


Book cover of Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Matthew Hooton Author Of Typhoon Kingdom

From my list on silenced histories of Korea, Japan, and China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I lived and worked in South Korea for four years, where I first became fascinated with the country’s history, from shamans on Jeju island to the twentieth-century politics of Seoul. I’m the author of two novels and dozens of short stories and essays published in venues around the world, many of which feature some element of Korean history. I’m originally from Canada and now teach creative writing at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Matthew's book list on silenced histories of Korea, Japan, and China

Matthew Hooton Why did Matthew love this book?

I feel almost obligated to begin by noting that I found Thien’s prose absolutely gorgeous. This is both a brave novel—in its representation of the massacre of student demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989—and beautifully contextualized by further timelines spanning 1960s China and 1990s Canada.

I felt at once that Thien was showing me not only a snapshot of the infamous military response to student protests in Beijing but helping me understand what this brutal event might mean to those directly affected by it. The emotional and psychological power of the storylines and their exploration of grief and joy left me in awe of the novel and its author’s talent.

By Madeleine Thien,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Do Not Say We Have Nothing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old."

Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations-those who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers…


Book cover of Lady Tan's Circle of Women

G. Davies Jandrey Author Of The Law of Unintended Consequences

From my list on tough women crime busters who wouldn't be caught dead in heels.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love to read about strong, independent, imperfect women who are capable of getting themselves out of their own messes. That's why my female protagonists are strong, independent, imperfect women who don't need a man to save them.

G. Davies' book list on tough women crime busters who wouldn't be caught dead in heels

G. Davies Jandrey Why did G. Davies love this book?

I adore good historical fiction, and this rich novel has a murder mystery embedded within to boot.

As a women's doctor in 15th-century China, Lady Tan is an outlier among my favorite female sleuths. She minces around on tiny bound feet and lives in luxurious confinement in the compound of her husband's family, where she is grudgingly allowed to attend to the medical needs of the dozens of first wives, second wives, and concubines in the household. She is keenly observant and when a beloved “auntie” is found face down in the koi pond, Lady Tan risks banishment or worse to suss out the motive and the murderer.

Lisa See has authored a dozen other historical novels centered around Chinese women and I intend to read them all.

By Lisa See,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Lady Tan's Circle of Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Despite the inordinate limits placed on women, See allows their strengths to dominate their stories' Washington Post
'Poignant . . . quietly affecting' Time

In 15th century China two women are born under the same sign, the Metal Snake. But life will take the friends on very different paths.

According to Confucius, 'an educated woman is a worthless woman', but Tan Yunxian - born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separation and loneliness - is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. She begins her training in medicine with her grandmother and, as she navigates the…


Book cover of The Chinese Confessions of Charles Welsh Mason

Isham Cook Author Of Confucius and Opium: China Book Reviews

From my list on foreigner memoirs of China.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having lived in China for almost three decades, I am naturally interested in the expat writing scene. I am a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction on China, past and present. One constant in this country is change, and that requires keeping up with the latest publications by writers who have lived here and know it well. As an author of three novels, one short story collection, and three essay collections on China myself, I believe I have something of my own to contribute, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.

Isham's book list on foreigner memoirs of China

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Charles Welsh Mason, self-described “unconscious martyr of the Antichrist,” for reasons the author himself is only able to ascribe to a “morbid hallucination,” gives up his post, servants, and comfortable life as a young English customs officer in a treaty port in 1890s China for a bizarre plot to lead a band of Chinese rebels to overthrow the Manchu Government and declare himself “King of China.” The scheme unravels when he’s caught with a hoard of illegal arms. Almost unbearable suspense unfolds, masterfully narrated, as the authorities struggle to connect the dots. Even after his arrest Mason is wined and dined by his British superiors in Shanghai, incomprehension preventing their full appreciation of his mad plot. Finally imprisoned, Mason is shipped back to England to live out his remaining decades as a solitary eccentric. I do not recall any book set in China’s past or present, whether fiction or nonfiction,…

By Charles Welsh Mason,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Chinese Confessions of Charles Welsh Mason as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this old China tale like no other, Englishman Charles Mason tells of his doomed attempt to overthrow the Qing dynasty.


Lawrence of Arabia famously wrote that, "All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men," for they may act upon their dreams. Such a man was young Charles Mason, who, in the late 1880s, secured a job with China's British-run Imperial Maritime Customs Service at a river port. Here the glamor…


Book cover of Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party Is Reshaping the World

George Magnus Author Of Red Flags: Why XI's China Is in Jeopardy

From my list on on understanding modern China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I used to be Chief Economist at the UK bank SG Warburg and then at UBS, starting out in 1987 and finally cutting the cord in 2016 as Senior Economic Advisor. I visited China twice or three times a year from about 1994 and then the pandemic intervened. After the financial crisis, I decided that China would be the world’s next big thing. So I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s going on there and for the last few years, I've been an associate at the China Centre at Oxford University and SOAS in London. Red Flags was a book I simply had to write. Maybe there’ll be another. We shall see.

George's book list on on understanding modern China

George Magnus Why did George love this book?

While it’s important to get a grip on what’s going on inside China, it\s also essential to appreciate how China presents itself and tries to influence the world and a second but rather different book that does this is this one. But instead of looking at China from an international relations point of view, these authors look at how the Communist Party uses agencies and institutions to not only influence politicians, think tanks, universities, and businesses in other countries - which is by no means unique - but also to interfere, which is more exceptional. 

This book makes a number of claims, and while some may be more soundly based than others, readers should look at the themes in the round and will learn a lot of what they might not have suspected r read about before.

By Clive Hamilton, Mareike Ohlberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hidden Hand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Heavily sourced, crisply written and deeply alarming.' The Times

'This is a remarkable book with a chilling message.' Guardian

The Chinese Communist Party is determined to reshape the world in its image.

Its decades-long infiltration of the West threatens democracy, human rights, privacy, security and free speech. Throughout North America and Europe, political and business elites, Wall Street, Hollywood, think tanks, universities and the Chinese diaspora are being manipulated with money, pressure and privilege. Hidden Hand reveals the myriad ways the CCP is fulfilling its dream of undermining liberal values and controlling the world.


Book cover of Further News of Defeat: Stories

Rachel Swearingen Author Of How to Walk on Water and Other Stories

From my list on debut story collections to read cover to cover.

Why am I passionate about this?

From childhood on, I’ve been drawn to storytellers, especially those who use their imagination to captivate and question. My favorite stories twist and turn, and throw light on the every day to reveal what is inexplicable, weird, wondrous, and often heartrending. My taste runs wide, and I could list dozens of favorite collections. Having released my own debut book of stories during the pandemic, I learned firsthand how difficult it can be to find readers for story collections, especially when those collections are published by smaller presses. For that reason, I’ve chosen five recent debuts from masterful authors I hope more readers will discover. 

Rachel's book list on debut story collections to read cover to cover

Rachel Swearingen Why did Rachel love this book?

I cannot think of a more perfect title for Michael Wang’s Further News of Defeat. Imminent loss haunts the edges of each story, ready to pounce on Wang’s indelible characters. In America, we’re often uncomfortable with this kind of storytelling. We prefer our characters to be redeemed, to either prevail over calamity or to fail due to their own weaknesses. Wang’s characters are both at the mercy of outside events and circumstances and participants in their own fates. Most of the stories are set in fictional cities and rural villages in China. War, regime and societal changes, poverty, immigration, and identity are running themes. Several of these stories are so gripping I could imagine them as longer works. Further News of Defeat is a beautifully rendered and well-researched book. 

By Michael X. Wang,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Further News of Defeat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Steeped in a long history of violence and suffering, Michael X. Wang's debut collection of short stories interrogates personal and political events set against the backdrop of China that are both real and perceived, imagined and speculative. Wang plunges us into the fictional Chinese village of Xinchun and beyond to explore themes of tradition, family, modernity, and immigration in a country grappling with its modern identity. Violence enters the pastoral when Chinese villagers are flung down a well by Japanese soldiers and forced to abandon their crops and families to work in the coal mines, a tugboat driver dredges up…


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